But perhaps I am just making excuses.
Notes about my 2016 reading:
- Not a great year for novels. I only read eight, but if you cut out the short story collections (The Lone Ranger, Roughing It) and the one that is a thinly veiled memoir (Notes from a Deadhouse), and the one I was re-reading (The Count of Monte Cristo), I only read four novels (The Familiar, Small Gods, A Lesson Before Dying, and The Bluest Eyes). Given that one of these was a sequel, The Familiar, I feel that I read far too few novels.
- A good year for me and non-fiction: almost half of my books were nonfiction.
- Also, a big year for me and biographies. Historically I've had very little interest in biography, but I find that, as an adult, I have become more interested in learning about how other people have found their way. I suspect my future holds more biographies, and certainly more volumes of Caro's Lyndon Johnson.
- Ten reviews. Last year I did eighteen reviews; the previous year, seventeen. So, a low year for me. Perhaps 2017 will be better.
With my mere twenty-four books, I think a top five is within the spirit of the best-of lists. So, without more dithering about, my Top Five:
#5: On Writing: a Memoir of Craft by Stephen King
My literary snobbishness went through a period where I turned my nose at King, despite having reading his novels extensively in my youth. However, I revisited King to finish off The Dark Tower series and was generally satisfied. After reading Reading for Plot, though, I have really come to appreciate King's remarkable skill for plot design. King's memoir was an unexpected delight. I expected to enjoy it and get some tips on writing along the way. What I actually got was an extremely thoughtful and engaging memoir, not just of King's writing life, but his life. I'd suggest it's worth reading for anyone interested in the craft of writing.
#4: On Violence by Hannah Arendt
Per usual, Arendt blew my mind. I continue to find great insight in her words, regardless of how old they are. I want, some day, to feel I understand her enough to apply it to understand our world today. I feel that I got closer, but I still have quite far to go.
#3: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Quotable at every turn, entertaining on every page, and interesting to top it off, my first experience with Pratchett was as good as promised. Small Gods in particular was recommended to me by a friend as a book that would especially resonate with me. I am excited to know of another author whose work I can turn to and enjoy.
#2:The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Like some other books I've read over the last couple of years, this appeared on my radar because of a Paris Review interview. Ninety percent of the time, I find these interviews boring and self-indulgent; however the good ones are so good to justify reading all of them. The interview with Caro motivated me to give the first volume about Johnson a try, and it was great. Caro described his project as attempting to write a biography of power, and how it comes to be. The first volume in his Johnson biography did exactly that. It was about Johnson, yes, but it was also about how a person can become powerful.
#1: From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton
I list this as my best read of the year because it is the most likely to have the longest-lasting impression on me. I will probably have Hinton's book in mind for years to come as I continue my quest to try to understand our criminal justice system. And, Hinton's book, I feel, has brought me quite far.